Book reviews: Are they worth the cyberspace they’re written on?

Book reviews…. OK, bear with me on this one. I know we’ve all heard a lot more than we ever wanted to about them over the last few weeks. But sock-puppets and reviews-for-hire aside, I’ve been having a think about book reviews in general and the online variety in particular and asking some tough questions of them in a hopefully objective kind of a way. So here’s my little two penn’worth to throw into the melting pot of opinions…

If you’re anything like me then buying a new book almost invariably means a visit to Amazon. With the amount of internet traffic Amazon sees, it stands to reason that the very visible customer reviews on the site make a difference to the choices we make and the books we buy. But do they really?

Well, I can obviously only speak on behalf of yours truly but I can’t remember the last time I read a review in Amazon, let alone bought a book because of one. You see, when it comes to books, there aren’t many people whose opinions I trust. There’s a few book bloggers I know, the reviewers for national newspapers and a handful of close friends who have the same tastes in literature as me but other than that I don’t put too much store in what anyone else says about a book. I don’t think I’m a literary snob – I’ve just seen far too many books that are very poorly written with four and five star ratings to believe anything I read any more. Maybe I’m just a bit of a cynic but I’d like to think it’s more like a touch of realism.

Now reviews may be useful from a writers point of view to see what your readers make of your book but even then I doubt they give an accurate picture. For example, say someone ‘Looks Inside’ your book, thinks it looks badly written and never gives your work a second thought. Is that going to be reflected in a bad review? Of course not. The absence of negative reviews proves absolutely nothing. So how then would all the glowing reviews by the, shall we say, less discerning readers help me tell if a book is worth reading? If you look hard enough you can find people who will five star review just about anything regardless of the standard. And they definitely do because I’ve read them.

So do I think customer book reviews are worthless? Not entirely, no. But are they being devalued? Absolutely.

What surprises me the most is the number of authors, particularly on Twitter, who post customer reviews as a way of marketing their books. I can honestly say that I’ve never once clicked on one of those links. I’m not wishing to be harsh but, seriously, to my way of thinking it ain’t worth a hill o’ beans. Sorry Tweeters!

So what does make me buy a book then? Well, I’m afraid I have to hold my hands up and admit that I do judge books by their covers. Rightly or wrongly, in my head at least, unprofessional presentation is likely to be reflected in the standard of writing. But by far the most important thing for me, particularly when discovering an author for the first time, is to read a sample of the writing. Seeing the first chapter would be good but generally you can tell by the first page whether you’re going to want to read on or not. So if you want to sell me your book, my tip would be to let me ‘Look Inside’. And if you pique my interest there then no amount of bad reviews would put me off coughing up my hard earned dough to read it.

So there it is. That’s my opinion for what its worth. But feel free to disagree with me and if anyone has evidence to the contrary then I’m happy to be proven wrong….

Thanks for reading,
D.B.

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About davidbastiani

I write words and sometimes they end up in the right order. I am the creator of Milo Peretti - Rome's newest private detective - and I'm currently working on my debut novel, The Colour of Weeping. I also write poetry. Sometimes I might let people read it. View all posts by davidbastiani

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